Michael A. Estrada (he/him/his) is a photographer and writer, educator, producer, and EJ activist from California. After graduating from UCLA, he moved to the Marin Headlands for an ecological restoration position in the Golden Gate National Parks. Inspired by his experience with volunteer audiences and school group visits, he then became an outdoor and environmental educator in San Francisco. There, he honed his passions for storytelling, environmental justice, and creative engagement. In late 2016 he began his transition toward documentary storytelling, with the ongoing commitment to elevate the voices of communities and people through story and visual representation. Michael partners with (outdoor) brands, non-profits, and news agencies around the world. He is a first-generation Salvadoran American, and in his free time aspires to a zero-waste lifestyle, trains as a triathlete, and drinks plenty of tea.
Name: Michael A. Estrada
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Occupation: Documentary journalist
Outdoor Passion: Photography, plant ID, cycling, and camping.
What was your introduction to the outdoors?
I was born in Culver City. My family and parents are both from El Salvador. Most of my exposure to the "outdoors" was through playing soccer my whole life, so I actually spent a lot of time outside. Still, the word hiking didn’t fall into my vocabulary until college. Before then, soccer was a really intense part of my life, and I dabbled with running in high school as well. I would say my earliest connection with nature was as a high school freshman on the cross-country team. We went—I don’t even know where it was—but I have a very vivid memory of running as fast as I could, alone, on some random trail. I didn't use trail shoes, just some blue and white, Nike indoor soccer flats. That was my first experience of feeling in tune and clearly connected to nature— although I didn’t know how to name it yet. I couldn't yet connect how spiritual and meaningful that experience was for me, but it planted the seed.
Then in college I slowly found my way back to that. One day, in my 3rd year, I decided I wanted to do triathlons. I thought, 'I know how to ride a bike kinda and there are these nice beautiful outdoor pools', even though I didn’t know too much about swimming. I knew how to stay afloat (roughly speaking) and swim around but lane or competitive swimming was completely foreign to me. Even the notion that you put your head under water the whole time and only stick your head out to breathe—I had no idea.
So one day in between classes I just showed up at the pool. I walked out in board shorts. I didn’t have a swimming gap or goggles. I didn’t know what I was doing but I was just going to jump into the pool and figure it out. It didn't really work out. I could barely swim down half the lane before I got a cramp. But I went back. I went every day and little by little it started to make sense: the flags above my head, the lines at the bottom of the pool. I did that for a couple weeks and realized that I loved swimming. Growing up, it wasn't a thing that I ever considered I would do but suddenly I couldn't get enough of it. Eventually, I joined the UCLA Masters swimming team to keep improving and a couple weeks later I joined the UCLA triathlon team, as well. While it was great for the motivation it gave me to compete, it wasn't an inviting space. I remember feeling that I really loved the sport but I didn’t feel comfortable asking questions. So I resorted to figuring things out for myself. Triathlon itself is very elitist in nature just because it is so expensive. And to be honest—that was kind of my vague motivation to try triathlon in the first place: I wanted to break past the barriers and the elitism. I wanted to show that I could compete without fancy gear (or any).
Follow Michael's work at @brownenvironmentalist on Instagram.